David Cameron will try to brush off embarrassing net migration figures on Thursday by announcing details of a new immigration bill to be included in the Queen’s speech, which will propose a new criminal offence of illegal working that will allow police to seize the wages of anyone employed unlawfully.
It has been estimated that the backlog of people in Britain who have overstayed their visas and whose whereabouts are unknown is around 300,000, but it is not known how many are working. Cameron managed to survive the general election even though he once urged voters to kick him out if he failed to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands.
The last official quarterly net migration figures showed net migration was 298,000 last year, 54,000 higher than when he made the pledge in 2010.
Cameron promised in the Tory manifesto to keep the pledge, although he has also said he would be adding new metrics to test whether migration was being reduced.
In practice, his success in this parliament will not depend solely on new legislation but also on deeper trends in the European labour market and any agreements reached on tightening social security entitlements within the EU – one of his key targets in his renegotiation of the UK relationship with the rest of the EU.
The last published figures covered the 12 months to September 2014 and showed that immigration rose from 530,000 the previous year to 624,000, while emigration remained stable at 327,000.
In his latest speech on immigration – clearly designed to address the latest figures – Cameron will promise that the Queen’s speech will contain an immigration bill designed to bring the whole of government into the battle to reduce migration flows. He will promise the bill will make “Britain a less attractive place to come and work illegally”.
Migrants with current leave to remain who are working illegally in breach of their conditions may be prosecuted under the Immigration Act 1971 and be liable on summary conviction to a six-month custodial sentence and/or an unlimited fine.
But ministers say there is a loophole for migrants who entered illegally or have overstayed their leave and are not therefore subject to current conditions of stay.
This new offence will address this gap and close a loophole whereby the wages of some illegal migrants fall outside of the scope of the confiscation provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act, unlike those individuals who are working in breach of leave conditions.
The offence will apply to those who arrived illegally or those who entered the UK legally but then overstayed.
Cameron will say: “A strong country isn’t one that pulls up the drawbridge … it is one that controls immigration. Because if you have uncontrolled immigration, you have uncontrolled pressure on public services. And that is a basic issue of fairness.
“Uncontrolled immigration can damage our labour market and push down wages. It means too many people entering the UK legally but staying illegally. The British people want these things sorted.
“That means … dealing with those who shouldn’t be here by rooting out illegal immigrants and bolstering deportations. Reforming our immigration and labour market rules so we reduce the demand for skilled migrant labour and crack down on the exploitation of unskilled workers. That starts with making Britain a less attractive place to come and work illegally.
He will promise the bill will put “an end to houses packed full of illegal workers; stop illegal migrants stalling deportation; give British people the skills to do the jobs Britain needs”.
The main powers, many previously trailed but rejected by the Liberal Democrats, include new measures for councils to crack down on unscrupulous landlords and evict illegal migrants more quickly.
Banks will also be required to do more to check bank accounts against databases of people in the UK illegally.
The right to deport first and for the migrant to appeal later will be extended to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews. Satellite tracking tags will be placed on foreign criminals awaiting deportation so it is easier for Home Office officials to follow their location.
A new offence of illegal working will also be introduced to close a loophole that means people who are in the UK illegally cannot benefit from working and their wages will be given the same status as a proceed of crime so making it subject to seizure by police.
No businesses and recruitment agency will be permitted to recruit abroad without advertising in the UK.
In addition, a new labour market enforcement agency will established to crack down on the worst cases of labour market exploitation, such as workers being paid the minimum wage but then being housed in tied accommodation at extortionate rents.